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THE ALTERNATIVES

Beachgoers, hikers can get onboard

Shuttle service winds from Malibu and the San Fernando Valley.

March 01, 2007|Libby Slate | Special to The Times

EVERY weekend for the last 15 months, K.C. Durfee has boarded the National Park Service's ParkLINK shuttle for a scenic tour of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, winding through rocky canyons, enjoying panoramic ocean views, seeing colorful wildflowers and other vegetation, spotting the occasional horse and rider. Once in a while, she'll disembark for some beach time at Zuma.

"I love all the windows, looking out," says the collection agency stenographer, who lives near Agoura and boards at the Peter Strauss Ranch stop. "And before the shuttle, I hadn't been to the beach in at least 10 years. It's nice to go to the beach again."

For Leticia and Watson Wong of Encino, their shuttle ride was their first, part of a group excursion of couples and families who'd been camping at Malibu Creek State Park.

"We live seven or eight, maybe 10 miles from here but we've never been here before," says Watson, who works for a parking system. "There are wonderful vistas. It's a beautiful place to relax your mind from the hustle and bustle of the city." Adds Leticia, the director of dietary services at a nursing home, "It's so accessible, and very cheap to go around the area."

Making the Santa Monica Mountains easy and inexpensive to explore has become a primary goal of the National Park Service, which initially launched the ParkLINK shuttle the July 4 weekend of 2005 to ease traffic and parking lot congestion.

"We went out with all these noble reasons, and then realized the shuttle was making all these wonderful places accessible," explains Margie Steigerwald, outdoor recreation planner for the Park Service in Thousand Oaks. "We're now focused on making these sites available to people who are without cars and transit-dependent, or to people who want to do the right thing and say, 'If the shuttle is out there, why not go?' "

Accordingly, the Park Service, which is operating the shuttle in a three-year demonstration phase to determine if it will become permanent, has worked with the Metro transit agency to coordinate pickup points in Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. On Feb. 1, ridership was made free for everyone.

Operating weekends and some holidays year-round, the shuttle service -- 20-passenger air conditioned vans which can accommodate two wheelchairs and three bicycles each -- runs routes in a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction; stops at any given location, continuing on in the same direction, are generally one hour apart.

The hub is Malibu Creek State Park, where an easy walk along the creek brings deer sightings in the grasslands; a moderate hike leads to the small Century Lake and a more strenuous route delivers the filming site of TV's "MASH."

Among the 15 other stops are Tapia Park, a shaded area good for picnics; Paramount Ranch, with its Western set used for "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and other filming; Solstice Canyon, boasting a year-round waterfall; and the Point Dume Trail, with breathtaking ocean views and a descent leading to the beach.

Many first-time riders, Steigerwald notes, simply stay on the shuttle to get an overview and enjoy the sights, which takes about 2 1/4 hours.

"We've learned that people need that first time to become used to the buses, and get comfortable with their own itineraries," she says.

ACCORDING to ridership surveys, more than half of the service's 5,000 users have ridden in the summer months, with touring, hiking and beachgoing the most popular pastimes. But there's plenty to see and do the rest of the year, Steigerwald says: autumn hikes in cooler weather; lush wildflowers about a month after the winter rains begin; fuller waterfalls in the spring. (The shuttle schedule has occasionally been curtailed because of rain or road closures.)

Although most riders are local, shuttle driver Ralph Kacy has had his share of European and out-of-state visitors. "People look us up online," says Kacy, whose friendly manner and wealth of area information are as much a part of the shuttle experience as the sights. "One man came from Massachusetts. He got off the plane, took the Metro bus and came right here."

weekend@latimes.com

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ParkLINK

Info: For shuttle schedule, map and directions, visit: www.parklinkshuttle.com or call (888) 734-2323

Cost: Free

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